The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) provides ‘sustainable livelihoods’ or ‘green jobs’ to workers engaged in restoring the rural ecology while contributing to ‘sustainable rural development’. While the works constructed under NREGA possess tremendous potential to improve environmental indicators—rise in water levels, carbon dioxide sequestration, improvement in soil quality etc., it is unclear how much of that is actually happening. This study seeks to explore this question in this context. Firstly, the study finds that, on the whole, MGNREGA works are green and the works do ensure an overall improvement in environmental parameters. Secondly, several newly adopted activities (such as the construction of roads, buildings and wells) are actually not 'environmental' and hence, do not necessarily provide 'green jobs'. Despite the massive socio-economic contribution of these works, they can actually cause significant environmental damage. Therefore, it becomes important to balance the 'non-environmental' works with sufficient 'environmental' works. Finally, though this paper attempts to quantify the environmental impacts of MGNREGA works, it is limited by constraints of data availability, time and resources. However, it intends to push for a national effort to develop methodologies for inculcating environmental sensitivity into the planning, design, execution, utilisation and evaluation of MGNREGA works. It is hoped that these exercises would significantly contribute towards the ecological restoration of rural areas by the MGNREGA.
Bibliographical noteAcknowledgements The study was supported by the UNDP, India and based at Samaj Pragati Sahyog
(SPS), Bagli, Madhya Pradesh. The authors are grateful for the constant support, guidance and reviews
offered by Mr. Amit Anand (formerly UNDP), Mr. P.S. Vijay Shankar (SPS), Mr. Sharat Singh (Society
for Promotion of Wasteland Development), Professor Jean Dreze, Professor Ravi Srivastava, Professor
Sucharita Sen and Dr. S. Sreekesh (JNU).